GAAS PolSci Conference 2020: Democracy and its Limits. The United States in Perspective

Project no.:



Thursday, 5th– Friday, 6th November 2020


Online - Webex-based


Bard College Berlin
John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin 

The conference is friendly supported by the

Philipp Schwartz Initiative, Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung


Aysuda Kölemen, Christian Lammert, David Sirakov & Boris Vormann

Target group:

Political scientists, historians, sociologists as well as a larger interested audience

Participation fee:

No admission


Program of the GAAS  PolSci Conference 2020


Links will be shared after registration and shortly before the respective event.


Democratic institutions in the United States are often thought of as bulwarks against manifold threats, both from inside and outside of the American polity. Donald Trump’s first term in office has been a stress test to these democratic institutions and processes. This conference asks for the causes as well as the consequences of Trump’s electoral success. We consider illiberal tendencies as a serious political phenomenon in the United States and see Trump as a symptom of a longer-standing set of dynamics that we can better grasp through a comparative view and against the backdrop of global dynamics. 

As a glimpse at different cases from Jair Bolsonaro to Viktor Orbán shows, demagogues, once in office, alter the structures of the state and civil society in ways that are likely to inflict long term damage. Compromises to the separation of powers, public officials' conflicts of interest, the defamation of the media: some of the essential pillars of democracy and core ideals of the Enlightenment are under attack.

As such, the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Political Science Section of the German Association for American Studies (GAAS) examines the effects of Donald Trump on democratic processes and institutions, and reflects on the immediate and potential long-term consequences of his administration for democratic participation in the political system of the United States, and how these processes compare to other democracies in crisis. 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Opening Remarks

Panel I
Trump in Power: Illiberalism and Democracy
Panel Chair: Betsy Leimbigler (Freie Universität Berlin)

Michael Weinman (Indiana University/BCB): A Passing Storm? American Illiberalism and the 2020 Elections
Jörg Hebenstreit (FSU Jena): Independence under Threat – Attempts of Expanding Presidential Supervisory Authority over Independent Agencies under the Trump Administration
Michael Dreyer (FSU Jena): Packing the Courts? Donald Trump, Checks and Balances, and the “Least Dangerous Branch”
Elena Broda (University of Passau): Perfect phone call or abuse of power? How ideological media framed Trump’s Impeachment

Panel II: Fake News, Social Media, and Political Communication
Panel Chair: Gülçin Balamir Coşkun (Humboldt Universität Berlin)

Maren Schäfer (Heidelberg Center for American Studies): “Totally Compromised Kangaroo Courts” and the “Fake News Media” – Donald Trump’s Anti-Democratic Right-Wing Populist Rhetoric
Curd Knüpfer (Freie Universität Berlin) and Michael Oswald (Universität Passau): Tapping the sphere of deviance: Right-wing news sites as a peripheral network to the Trump-Fox News information nexus
Mike Cowburn (Freie Universität Berlin): Republican Legislator Adoption of the Fake News Label on Twitter
Martin Thunert (Heidelberg Center for American Studies): (Dis)Trust of Experts and Contemporary Populism: The Case of the United States in Perspective 

Assessing the Elections
Panel Chair: David Sirakov (Atlantische Akademie)

Sean Theriault (University of Texas): Congressional Elections: What Happened and Why?
Rachel Bitecofer (TheCycle.News): Negative Partisanship in the 2020 American Election

Friday, November 6, 2020

Business Meeting
Political Science Section of the German Association for American Studies 

Panel III: The New Normal? International Relations under Trump
Panel Chair: Florian Böller (TU Kaiserslautern)

Cornelia-Adriana Baciu (Research Network European Security and Strategy): Paradoxes of American Exceptionalism and Restraint. A Neo-Classical Realism Perspective
Ana-Constantina Frost (Freie Universität Berlin
): Whose Foreign Policy Is It Anyway? Studying Diaspora Politics in a Time of International Upheaval
Jakob Wiedekind (Leibniz Universität Hannover): The New De Facto Veto? Tracing the Impact of SAPs as a New Measure of Presidential Power in Foreign Policy

Panel IV: Persisting Problems: Inequalities and Social Rights
Panel Chair: Aysuda Kölemen (Bard College Berlin)

Guido Rohmann (Freie Universität Berlin): ‘Left behind' - A term we should leave behind?
Betsy Leimbigler (Freie Universität Berlin
): Interactions between illiberalism and institutions: Economic and social rights in the U.S.
Laura Kettel (Freie Universität Berlin
): Contested Governance: The Federal Response to Homelessness in the United States

Panel V: Race and Public Policy
Panel Chair: Christian Lammert (Freie Universität Berlin)

Rachel Wetts (Brown University): Activating and Harnessing White Racial Prejudice in the 2020 US Election.
Aysuda Kölemen (Bard College Berlin): Race as a Category in Evaluations of Deservingness and Undeservingness of Government Assistance.
Candis Smith (Penn State University): Who Stands a Chance? Disparate Worldviews on the Social Constructions of Vulnerable Populations.

Keynote: What Is to Be Done?
Speaker: Ruth Wilson Gilmore (CUNY Graduate Center)
Introduction: Boris Vormann (Bard College Berlin)